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DOES ALCOHOL AND DRUG TREATMENT WORK?

Table of Contents

There’s a lot of pessimism around drug and alcohol treatment because when people ask if drug and alcohol treatments work, the main question they’re asking is if it will work for them and if they will be able to stop using drugs for the rest of their lives.

Does treatment allow them to stop using their drug?

When someone comes to drug and alcohol treatment you want to know why they’re there. Because in that current moment of their life, they’re unable to stop using the drink or the drug, despite the negative consequences. They have just overdosed, or they got arrested, or their family just gave them an ultimatum, or they dropped out of school, or lost their job – life is happening and consequences are piling up because of their drug use, they come to treatment.

In the early stages, drug treatment gets a person to stop their cycle. It takes them out of their environment, breaks their habitual patterns and they discontinue the use of drugs with the support that’s around them. So yes, drug and alcohol treatment absolutely works in that regard.

But can someone stop using drugs forever?

The next question, which is the part that everybody is actually truly asking, is not whether they can stop, but whether they can stay stopped. There are so many different factors that go into why someone is using drugs in the first place and why they are using them. For example, consider someone who experienced serious loss, trauma or abuse from the ages of 8 to 20 years old. Those numbers are generally the ranges we see all the time with serious trauma, abandonment, emotional, psychological, physical, sexual, spiritual issues. For a person who experienced all that, drug use is not the problem to that person – the use of drugs and alcohol is the solution to their problem, it’s the solution to their sadness and depression, it’s a solution to their low self esteem and pain.

So when we take the solution away from that person they’re just raw nerves of sadness, depression, anger and fear. The real work starts by getting down to the roots of why the individual needs to use painkillers, needs to numb out and disassociate from life. If they don’t get to the roots of all that (which, by the way, is not the drug and alcohol treatment center’s fault for not getting to that) there are a lot of people resisting doing that deep work. It’s not even just people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol – even regular people who have never had a problem with addiction, the deep work of going within to figure out why you are the way you are, why you feel the way you feel, why you do the things you do, why you act the way you act, not just now, but your whole life, many people would love to sign up for that kind of deep work. Most people don’t want to look at that stuff, let alone a 18-19-20 year old kid, but treatment exposes them, opens it up to them, and brings it out for them, and allows them to get deregulated so that they can learn coping skills to self-regulate without the use of drugs and alcohol.

Does treatment work the first time?

Our hope and prayer for everyone is that the first time someone goes to drug and alcohol treatment that it works for them. That’s not the norm and the statistics don’t agree either. However, there is someone who came to our center who is now 10 years sober, but it only worked for them after the 12th time, when they finally realized that all the work they’ve done in treatment was to get them ready to look at the deep stuff of why they were using drugs in the first place, why the felt out of place, or why they felt sad or in pain, and why they felt like nobody liked them, why they felt like their self esteem was low.

Once they get into the deep work that’s when the drug treatment works. So you can’t force someone who isn’t ready.

Internal and External Motivation

External motivation is when someone who comes into drug and alcohol treatment, not for themselves, by their own wishes or desires, but because someone else in life, usually someone they love or cared for, or sometimes someone they resent and don’t like (like the judge or the courts) told them that if they didn’t go to drug and alcohol treatment then x-y-z is going to happen. So they come into treatment, externally motivated to do something that they don’t really want to do. The goal of drug and alcohol treatment is to move that person a little bit over, day by day, to go from being primarily externally motivated, to being internally motivated.

Internal motivation is when someone is going into drug treatment for themselves, not because someone else wants them to do it. In that case, they continue doing it for themselves.

My personal story

For the record, I just celebrated 14 years of sobriety this past June the 13th, 2008. The only reason I got clean and sober was for my mom because I was tired of just watching her get older and sicker and more tired. I didn’t care about myself, I was even suicidal, but I cared enough about my mom to go into treatment for her. About six months later, even though I started treatment for my mom, I shifted over to doing it for myself. So I went from being externally to internally motivated.

A lot of times parents say their kid just doesn’t want treatment and what can they do about it when they can’t force someone to become internally motivated. The whole point of internal motivation is that it happens from within. But the family can change the environment, tighten the screws, learn to set boundaries and healthy communication. The family can learn how not to enable anymore so that they allow the person to move towards internal motivation.

Planting the Seeds

Treatment is like a lot of seeds being planted and watered every single day, every single moment, with every single conversation. And before you know it, it becomes the most beautiful flower plant or garden.

A lot of the time someone in drug treatment is just not ready to hear at 8 o’clock in the morning that they’re worth it and that they can do anything in life as long as they put down the drink or the drug, that the world becomes their playground and that they can transform into anything they desire. But even if they don’t want to hear it, the deep work is the unexpected payoff for family members who participate in the recovery process. If their loved ones did not have the problem that brought the family members into the circle of recovery we would probably never have reached the extent of our own growth.

So when someone asks whether drug and alcohol treatment works, maybe a better question would be, “for who?” If your question is if it only works for the person struggling with drugs and alcohol, maybe or maybe not. Does it work for family members? It does work for those that actually participated in the recovery process. The best part of the job is to watch them grow, watch the seeds grow.

Are you ready to start recovery for yourself or your loved one? Please call or give them this phone number: 888-604-6446